Duh! Manga Is On Fire!

Well I don’t know if I should be worried or not yet, but it looks like the popular press has discovered manga just as anyone who has frequented a Borders or other major bookstore chain recently. Have you too had to trip over an aisle of usually young people camped out reading manga? It’s gotten so bad that some titles, such as Ken Akamatsu’s Negima, come out sealed in plastic, though with Akamatsu (of Love Hina fame), that may be for content! 🙂

The January 5, 2005 issue of the Chicago Tribune has a story covering the popularity of manga in its Woman News section. Knowing my interest in manga, a friend gave me a copy of the article (thanks Peggy!). According to the article, manga sales in the U.S. topped $110M in 2003 nearly double the $60M taken in the year before. But the primary motivation for the article is apparently the growing popularity of manga with girls, particularly the shoujo manga which are targeted at girls to begin with.

It’s a nice article that will give the uninitiated a fair intro to manga, but it is mainly written in the context of American comics and American views of comics as being fluff for boys. In this sense it paints an inaccurate view of manga and perhaps misses the point of why it is becoming popular here in the U.S. as it has been in Japan for some time. I believe the reason for the popularity here with both boys, girls, and old guys like me, is story! The anime and manga that are making their way to the U.S. have interesting stories and characters which with the mix of an unfamiliar culture and different ways of looking at life, are proving to be a potent brew.With this in mind, the popularity of manga is unlikely to revive traditional, super hero oriented American comics. The article doesn’t go into this in great detail, but does indicate that a transformation may be starting to take place in the American comics industry in response to manga and what it is telling them about what readers want. So expect to see manga style offerings from the likes of Marvel and DC Comics in the near future. One particularly welcome development is publisher Del Rey’s entry into the manga market with two strong offerings from the legendary CLAMP, Tsubasa and xxxHOLiC. Not only are these a couple of my favorites, but Del Rey has given TokyoPop a real run for their money by not only publishing in the manga style like TokyoPop, but also providing contextual information on honorifics and other cultural references (though you’ll also see some of this in Fruits Basket, one of my TokyoPop favorites). For someone who wants to have as authentic an experience as possible, short of learning Japanese and moving to Japan, this is da bomb! For more about manga, I’d recommend Dreamland Japan, it’s a little dated now, but still a good starting point for the academically inclined.